I already wrote a more personal blog post about how this book made a huge impact on me, but I’ll try to be a bit more objective in this official book review.
IT WAS SO AMAZING AND HEALING!
Okay, no, I can be more objective than that.
Nathan Foster is the prodigal son of Richard Foster. While his father was gaining Christian fame for his book Celebration of Discipline, Nathan was suffering from depression and suicidal ideation, alcoholism, and drug abuse. After getting sober, going to counseling, and deciding to love Jesus, adult Nathan eventually got curious about his father’s life work in bringing spiritual disciplines to life. But while the elder Foster’s books are more proscriptive (how to practice the disciplines), the younger Foster’s book is a narrative. Nathan decides to start practicing the disciplines to see if they’re actually helpful, and he talks us through his journey in a sometimes hilarious, sometimes devastating confession.
Whether he’s learning submission by allowing his kids to dictate his schedule for a day or having emotional breakdowns when a five-day fast brings up dark memories, Nathan’s story brings the disciplines to life. I love How To books, but the stories that really encourage me to change are personal applications of what worked and what didn’t, what was learned and what was forgotten. It’s easier to want to try something new (like solitude or confession or celebration) when you’ve just read about someone else failing. “Well, I can’t do worse than that!” I think, which is my perfectionist personality exposing itself.
Which is another thing. Interspersed with chapters about the disciplines, Nathan opens up about being both the self-hating prodigal son as well as the self-righteous elder brother. These were my favorite chapters, and I highlighted just about everything. From his musings on self-hatred:
I knew the anxiety she carried. Her eyes had a starving sort of look, a look Christians often wear. It’s the face of someone who spends a lifetime striving to be the person they think they should be, chasing the approval of God and others, but never really feeling like they measure up. It’s seen on the person who follows the rules, does everything leaders ask them to do, is seldom acknowledged for all their efforts, and feels guilty when they slack on a diligent devotional life. In the deep recesses of their heart, they can’t seem to outrun the gnawing ache that they aren’t good enough. When honest, they’ll admit the lie that drives so much of their life: God is disappointed with their performance, just like everyone else is, just like their parents, teachers, spouse, and bosses were and are.
From his musings on self-righteousness:
In my efforts to present my body as a living sacrifice, to intensively and intentionally do a series of these spiritual activities, I had started to eye the behavior of others. I had begun to swell with pride – the fruit of hell. Could this be a danger of practicing the spiritual disciplines? After all, the religious leaders of Jesus’s day practiced disciplines with intensity and dedication that few have rivaled, yet despite their religious fervor, spiritual acts seemed little more than a tool used to control and oppress or impress others. Would they not have been better off being a real thief or prostitute, rather than a religious one?
This is the perfect book for…everyone! If you are an overachiever who wants to achieve more, this book will give you new ideas…while also unwinding your overachiever-ness. If you are a mess who doesn’t know up from down, this book will say, “I FEEL YOU,” and give you some gentle suggestions of places to put your feet and find a foundation. I loved it so much.
PS: my pastor suggested this book to me, which I find so endearing. He knows my reading tastes and the beat of my spiritual heart, which are the two things I admire most in church leader.
Nathan Foster was just a child when his father’s classic Celebration of Discipline brought the spiritual disciplines into the popular evangelical consciousness. More than thirty years later, Nathan made his own journey into the spiritual disciplines. As he sought day by day to develop habits that would enable him to live more like Jesus, he encountered problems both universal and unique. In this engaging narrative, he draws insights from saints of old to uncover fresh ways of living for the contemporary, postmodern Christian.
Through his successes, struggles, and failures, Foster invites readers on a journey of freedom, pain, frustration, and ultimately joy as he learns to rise above selfish desires, laugh at his own failures, and fall in love with God. Those who have read Celebration of Discipline will find in Nathan’s book creative new ways to practice the disciplines that have been so formative in their lives. Those who are new to the spiritual disciplines will find that developing a vital, interactive, conversational relationship with God is within their grasp. As a result, the holy habits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are truly possible for all. Includes chapter openings and a foreword from Richard J. Foster.
Release Date: September 2014